« PreviousContinue »
the enemy, Wolfe, with some of the navy officers as companions, selected a landing-place, and his desperate courage thought it not yet too late to begin the attack. Thirteen companies of the grenadiers and two hundred of the second battalion of royal Americans, who got first on shore, not waiting for a support, ran hastily toward the entrenchments and were repulsed in such disorder that they could not again come into line, though Moncton's regiments had arrived and formed with the coolness of invincible valor. Night was near, a storm was threatening, and Wolfe ordered a retreat, bringing off the dead and wounded from the field. A strand of deep mud, a hillside, steep and, in many places, impracticable, the heavy fire of a brave, numerous and well-protected enemy were difficulties which intrepidity and discipline could not overcome.
Four hundred lives were lost in this attack, which was made on the last day of July. Murray was next sent, with twelve hundred men above the town, to destroy the French ships and open a communication with Amherst. Twice he attempted a landing on the north shore without success. At Deschambault, a place of refuge for women and children, he won advantages over a guard of invalid soldiers and learned that Niagara had surrendered, and that the French had abandoned Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The eyes of Wolfe were strained to see Amherst approach. Vain hope! The commander-in-chief, though opposed by no more than three thousand men, was loitering at Crown Point; nor did even a 'messenger from him arrive. Wolfe was alone to struggle with the ever-increasing difficulties; but his courage never failed him. The numerous body of armed men under Montcalm “could not,” he reasoned,
The French, however, were entrenched in one of the strongest natural fortifications in the world. Their boats were numerous, and weak points were guarded by floating batteries; the keen eye of the Indian prevented surprise; the vigilance and hardihood of the Canadians made intrenchments everywhere necessary; the peasantry were zealous to defend their homes, language and religion; old men of seventy and boys of fifteen fired at the English detachments from the edges of the wood; every one able to bear arms was in the field. Little quarter was given on either side. Thus, for two months, the British fleet had ridden idly at anchor, the army had lain in their tents. The feeble frame of Wolfe sank under the energy of his restless spirit and the pain of anxious inactivity.
Though the young general was disabled by a fever, he laid before the brigadiers three several and equally desperate methods of attacking Montcalm in his intrenchments at Beauport. Meeting at Moncton's quarters, they wisely and unanimously gave their opinions against them all, and advised him to carry four or five thousand men above the town, and thus draw Montcalm from his impregnable situation to an open action. Wolfe consented to this proposal; and, with despair in his breast, yet as one conscious that he lived under the eyes of Pitt and of his country, he prepared to carry it into effect. Attended by the admiral he once more examined the citadel, with a view to a general assault. Although every one of the five passages from the upper to the lower town was carefully intrenched, Saunders was willing to join in any hazard for the public service; but said Wolfe, “I could not propose to him an undertaking so dangerous in its nature and promising so little success.”
He would have the whole force of Canada to oppose, and, by the nature of the river, the fleet could render no assistance. On the 2d of September, he wrote to Pitt:
“In this situation, there is such a choice of difficulties, that I am myself at a loss how to determine. The affairs of Great Britain require the most vigorous measures; but then the courage of a handful of brave men should be exerted only where there is some hope."
The despatch was read by Pitt with dismay, and he dreaded to hear further tidings.
Wolfe did not despair, however. Securing the posts on the isles of Orleans and opposite Quebec, he marched, with the army, on the fifth and sixth of September, from Point Levi, to which place he had transferred all the troops from Montmorenci; and embarked them in transports that had passed the town for the purpose. On the three following days, Admiral Holmes, with the ships, ascended the river to amuse De Bougainville, who had been sent up the north shore to watch the movements of the British army and prevent a landing. New France began to feel that the worst dangers of the campaign were over. De Levi, the second officer in command, was sent to protect Montreal, with a detachment, it was said, of three thousand men. The short summer was over, and they knew the British fleet must soon withdraw from the river, which would soon be packed with ice.
Wolfe applied himself intently to reconnoitring the north shore above Quebec. Nature had given him good eyes, as well as warmth of temper to follow first impressions. He himself discovered the cove which now bears his name, where the bending promontories almost form a basin, with a very narrow margin, over which the hill abruptly rises. He saw the path that wound up the steep, though so narrow that two men could hardly march abreast; and he knew by the number of tents which he counted on the summit, that the Canadian post which guarded it could not exceed a hundred. Here he resolved to land his army by surprise. To mislead the enemy his troops were kept far above the town; while Saunders, as if an attack were intended at Beauport, set Cook, the great mariner, with others to sound the water and plant buoys along that shore.
All the day and night of the twelfth were employed in preparations. The autumn evening was dark; but the general visited his stations to make his final inspection and utter his last words of encouragement. As he passed from ship to ship, he spoke to those in the boat with him of the poet Gray and the “ Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Wolfe, who was a great lover of poetry, remarked:
“I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow;" then, as the boat glided in silence through the darkness, he repeated : “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave." The last order had been issued, the last word of encouragement uttered, and when, at one o'clock in